Film noir actress Joan Lorring, who starred opposite Bette Davis in “The Corn Is Green” nearly 60 years ago, died Friday at the age of 88 in the Sleepy Hollow suburb of New York City. The radio, television, film and stage performer was chosen personally by Bette Davis for her role in the 1945 film, and later played significant roles in the 1946 films Three Strangers and The Verdict before etching out a long career in stage and television.
The once versatile actress had been ill for some time and died in a New York City hospital on Friday, daughters Andrea and Santha Sonenberg reported. Lorring, 88, joins Shirley Temple, Mickey Rooney, Maya Angelou, Ann B. Davis, and several other legends of music and film who died this year.
Anglo-Russian Lorring was born in Hong Kong in 1926 as Mary Madeline Ellis, and moved to the United States in 1939 prior to the Japanese invasion of China during World War II. She and her mother took up residence in San Francisco, where Lorring, whose nickname was “Dellie” before she changed her name, began a career in radio before finding her way to the big screen. She acted in her first American movie, the Metro Golden-Mayer romantic war film Song of Russia, and had a minor role in the suspense film The Bridge of San Luis Rey in 1944, before filming the screen test that would catch Bette Davis’ eye and skyrocket her career. Lorring’s role as the conniving and ambitious Bessie Watty earned her a best supporting actress nomination at the 1946 Academy Awards. She ultimately lost the award to Anne Revere, who won for her role in National Velvet, but the notoriety brought her a contract with Warner Brothers Studios.
Lorring found she had a penchant for film noir during her time with Warner Brothers, and acted opposite Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre in both Three Strangers and The Verdict. After that, she turned to stage acting, where she won a Donaldson Award for her role of Marie in Come Back, Little Sheba in 1950. She performed with Shirley Booth in the 1950 Broadway production, and Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times called her performance “genuine and attractive.” She followed that with several other solid roles throughout the 50s, including the The Autumn Garden in 1951 and A Clearing in the Woods in 1957. She also appeared in The Big Night in 1951 and Dead Pigeon in 1953.
Several television appearances are credited to Lorring in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. She appeared with Dustin Hoffman and Orson Bean in the 1966 television movie The Star Wagon, and she had a 13-episode run as Helen Norby in the 1955 series Norby. Lorring played the sister of Lizzie Borden in an Alfred Hitchock episode and appeared in Burt Lancaster’s The Midnight Man opposite Cameron Mitchell in 1974. She also had a short-lived role in the 1979 soap Ryan’s Hope and appeared in an episode of The Love Boat in 1980, which was her final appearance.
Lorring married Martin Sonenberg, a well-known endocrinologist who passed away in 2011. She leaves behind her two daughters, Andrea and Santha, and two grandchildren, Josh and Rebecca Jurbala. Santha Sonnenberg told the media that Lorring had fan mail and requests for autographs all the way up until she died at 88 years old.
By Christina Jones